Remembering the Future

The Community Relations Council and Heritage Lottery Fund today jointly staged a conference in Belfast City Hall. Over 150 delegates spent the morning listening, discussing and thinking about Remembering the Future.

There are a flood of political and social history anniversaries coming up in the next ten years or so: the Plantation of Ulster; signing of the Ulster Covenant; sinking of the Titanic; World War One, including the Battle of the Somme; Easter Rising; War of Independence; partition of Ireland; woman’s suffrage; the civil rights movement; etc.

Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure Nelson McCausland gave the opening speech. While not setting aside any new money for commemoration events, he recently instructed his department’s arms length bodies to include anniversary events in their upcoming programmes of events and funding initiatives.

The BBC’s Middle East correspondent Jeremy Bowen spoke about how the past is remembered in Israel and Palestine.

Fintan O’Toole – author, commentator and deputy editor of the Irish Times – asked who owns culture? And whose story are we telling?

In Friday night’s Belfast Telegraph, CRC’s Duncan Morrow and HLF’s Paul Mullan wrote about the challenges posed by the upcoming “decade of anniversaries”.

Can we turn pivotal events in the past into opportunities for learning, challenge and engagement for a better future? How we approach and commemorate these events will say much about our maturity as a society. Many of them have taken on resonance and meanings far greater than the actual events. History has become a battlefield in which we bend events to fit a wider political story, choosing our facts to prove a political point rather than learn more complicated truths.

The conference wrapped up with two panels made up of historians and politicians. In the final session, the five politicians (Delores Kelly, Ian Adamson, Mervyn Storey, Stephen Farry, and Tom Hartley) largely agreed on the need to get to grips with the context of these historical events and were willing to look through other people’s eyes to better understand why these events unfolded as they did.

As part of the proceedings, HLF proposed some principles that could be used to evaluate funding applications:

  • set in the broad historical context and built on the historical record and must be
    capable of interrogation;
  • include underlying complexities within identities, perspectives and ideologies;
  • evidence based; openness to plurality;
  • actively including different perspectives;
  • aiming for a mature and modern approach of mutual engagement and dialogue to commemoration; and
  • ethical.

Yesterday’s Sunday Sequence discussed the subject of commemoration (clip should start 51 mins into the programme) as well as this morning’s Good Morning Ulster (starts 1 hour 13 mins).

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